While it’s true that PTSD is prevalent in the veteran community, unfortunately, it’s not the only mental health condition that affects veterans. Somatic symptom disorder is one of many mental health conditions that veterans suffer from after serving their country.
If you or a loved one are suffering from somatic symptom disorder or another mental health-related condition after serving in the military, it’s important to understand the condition and its VA ratings.
In This Article About Somatic Symptom Disorder in Vets:
- Somatic Symptom Disorder
- C & P Exam for Somatic Symptom Disorder
- VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
- How to File a Claim for Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders
- Pain Disorder
- Unspecified Somatic Symptom Disorder
- Conversion Disorder
- Illness Anxiety Disorder
- VA Ratings for Mental Health Conditions
- Contact Our Experienced Team of VA Disability Lawyers
Somatic Symptom Disorder
The Veterans’ Administration calls somatic symptom disorder (SSD) “somatization disorder.” This occurs when a person feels exaggerated anxiety about physical symptoms — for example, pain and fatigue. The intense thoughts, behaviors, and feelings related to the symptoms make it impossible to complete many daily tasks. People suffering from SSD live in extreme fear that their routine medical issues are life-threatening.
Somatic symptom disorder symptoms include:
- Viewing normal physical sensations as signs of severe physical illness
- Constantly worrying about potential illness
- Fearing that symptoms are serious, even without evidence
- Thinking that physical sensations are threatening and/or harmful
- Concern that medical evaluation and/or treatments were not adequate
- Worrying that physical activity such as going to work or walking to the mailbox may cause illness or damage to the body
- Being unresponsive to medical treatment or unusually sensitive to the side effects of medication
- Repeatedly checking the body for abnormalities and irregularities
- Frequent visits to the doctor that worsen or don’t relieve concerns
- Having a more serious impairment than what’s typically expected from a medical condition
C & P Exam for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A Compensation and Pension Examination (C&P exam) is a critical part of the VA disability claim and compensation process. The VA schedules C&P exams for veterans to help determine the service connection of the disability, like SSD, and the severity of the symptoms.
The C&P exam for somatic symptom disorder differs from the Independent Medical Examination (IME) in that its examiner is VA-appointed. Conversely, the IME uses an independent medical doctor with no connections to the VA or veterans.
A C&P exam can include more than one test. For example, the VA may schedule another C&P exam with a psychiatrist upon your initial diagnosis. This will allow the VA to get a better idea of your condition and symptoms from specialists who are well-versed on the topic.
Due to Covid-19 complications and closings of various VA clinics, many PTSD C&P exams are being conducted via phone or telehealth calls. The increase of telehealth mental health assessments is making exams easier for disabled veterans.
The C&P exam report notes diagnosis or diagnoses, how the condition impacts daily life, test results (if applicable), and other pertinent information the examiner chooses to include. Then the examiner submits the report to the VA and it becomes a part of your claim file.
How To Handle Your VA C&P Exam
Here are some tips for your CP exam: one of the most important parts of your VA disability application.
Somatic Symptom Disorder Secondary to PTSD
A common and straightforward way to win an SSD claim is to file it as secondary to another service-connected condition, such as PTSD. Secondary conditions help increase your rating and benefits. PTSD can show all kinds of different symptoms. If you have service-connected PTSD, make sure your SSD is documented. It should either increase your PTSD rating or be combined as another condition.
Here is a video explaining how the VA combined ratings table works from one of our Veterans Disability Lawyers.
VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
The VA bases somatic symptom disorder VA ratings on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. Code 9421 characterizes VA somatic symptom disorder as a mental health claim. The veteran’s level of occupational and social impairment will determine the final VA rating.
100% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 100% rating for SSD represents total occupational and social impairment caused by symptoms such as:
- Gross impairment in thought processes or communication
- Persistent danger of hurting oneself or others
- Persistent delusions and/or hallucinations
- Grossly inappropriate behavior
- Intermittent inability to perform activities needed for daily life, like personal hygiene
- Disorientation to time or place
- Memory loss
70% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 70% rating for SSD describes occupational and social impairment with deficiencies in a majority of areas, including work, school, family relations, thinking, mood, and judgment caused by symptoms like:
- Suicidal ideation
- Illogical, obscure, or irrelevant speech
- Obsessional rituals that interfere with routine activities
- Near-continuous depression and/or panic that affects the ability to function independently and appropriately
- Impaired impulse control
- Difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances
- Neglect of personal hygiene and appearance
- Spatial disorientation
- Inability to establish and maintain effective relationships
Talk to Us About Your Claim: (866)232-5777
50% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 50% rating for somatization disorder represents work and social impairment with reduced productivity and reliability because of symptoms such as:
- Panic attacks more than once a week
- Difficulty understanding complicated commands
- Impairment of short- and long-term memory
- Disturbances of motivation and mood
- Faulty judgment
- Impaired abstract thinking
- Trouble establishing and maintaining effective work and/or social relationships
30% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 30% rating for somatization disorder comprises some impairment in social situations, occasional drops in work efficiency, and recurring periods of inability to perform basic tasks at work caused by the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks (weekly or less often)
- Chronic sleep impairment
- Mild memory loss (forgetting names, recent events, directions, etc.)
10% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 10% rating for somatization disorder constitutes work and social impairment that’s caused by mild or temporary symptoms that decrease work efficiency and the ability to perform tasks only during significantly stressful periods, or symptoms that are controlled by continuous medication.
0% VA Disability Rating for Somatic Symptom Disorder
A 0% rating for SSD means that although a formal diagnosis for a mental condition exists, the symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with social and occupational functioning or to require continuous medication. Veterans with conditions that rate 0% won’t get monthly cash benefits, but they will be eligible to receive VA healthcare and other benefits.
As of 2021, based on the ratings, you can expect the following VA disability compensation rates:
|Disability Rating||Monthly Payment (veteran only)|
Additional benefits may be available if you have a spouse and/or dependents once your condition rates 30% or higher. An attorney can help ensure you get all the benefits you deserve.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about the VA Rating Formula for Mental Disorders and Disabilities like PTSD.
How to File a Claim for Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders
According to the VA, eligibility to file a claim for somatization disorder depends on:
- A medical diagnosis of SSD or other related health conditions (for example, major depressive disorder, generalized somatic symptom disorder)
- Whether active-duty military service or another service-connected disability caused or worsened the disorder
- Persistent and reoccurring SSD symptoms or other mental health conditions that impact the symptoms’ severity
Evidence Requirements for a SSD Diagnosis
Complete the following activities before you file a claim:
- Define the in-service stressors that led to the condition
- Define when SSD began and how it is service connected
- Identify whether SSD relates to another service-connected disability
- Fill out VA Form 21-4138 Statement in Support of Claim for Somatic Symptom Disorder
- Attend a C&P Exam and submit medical records
- Get a DBQ for other mental health conditions completed by a U.S. board-certified psychologist
- We highly recommend also sending in a buddy statement and lay statements to add credibility to your case because VA raters heavily rely on firsthand witness testimonies
Veterans With Mental Illness Before Serving
Sometimes, veterans have mental health issues before they enter into service, and their experiences in active duty worsen their condition. If this is the case, it may entitle you to compensation based on the “aggravated service connection.” To prove an aggravated service connection, you need to have:
- A current mental illness diagnosis from a VA doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist
- Evidence of an occurrence during your service that worsened your illness
- Medical evidence showing a connection between your mental illness worsening and the event that took place during service
You will also need to prove that you had the mental illness before going into the military. If your enlistment exam noted your mental illness, you would satisfy the requirement. If not, you must provide medical records that show a pre-service diagnosis.
Other specified somatic symptom and related disorder, which used to be referred to as pain disorder, is a recurring pain in at least one part of the body without a known cause. Pain disorder diagnoses may occur when:
- A medical disorder does not account for the source of pain
- Pain causes considerable distress
- Psychological factors play a significant role in the pain’s onset, magnitude, and duration.
Believed to be caused by psychological stress, pain disorder often includes pain so severe that it disables veterans from proper functioning.
A veteran with pain disorder frequently develops issues beyond just the physical pain they endure, including:
- Reduced activity
- Sleep impairment
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal ideation
- Memory and cognitive impairment
- Substance abuse
- Relationship problems
- Helplessness and hopelessness
Criteria for Somatic Dysfunction
A somatic dysfunction diagnosis relies on the presence of any 4 TART criteria:
- Tissue texture abnormality
- Restriction of motion
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about Gulf War Syndrome and how to get benefits.
Unspecified Somatic Symptom Disorder
Unspecified somatoform disorder is a less specific version than somatization disorder and only requires a six-month or longer history of one or more inexplicable physical complaints.
The complaints are many and varied, and the only common similarity between them is that there is an absence of evidence for the symptoms or their severity.
The physical ailments of unspecified somatoform disorder usually start or get worse when the veteran is under stress.
Veterans diagnosed with unspecified somatoform disorder experience problems functioning in their daily lives because of the physical symptoms they experience. People with this disorder commonly see multiple doctors when trying to determine a physical cause for the reported symptoms.
Conversion disorder is a kind of somatoform disorder that occurs when physical symptoms mimic those of a neurological disorder even though there is no neurological disorder present. Symptoms include:
- Hearing loss
- Abnormal movement
- Vision loss
- Difficulties swallowing or balancing
- Loss of sensation or numbness
A conversion disorder is commonly the result of trauma, and it affects veterans’ senses and movements. If you experienced trauma during your service and later started experiencing conversion disorder symptoms, there may be a connection between the two. An attorney can help you find and submit evidence to secure disability benefits for the condition(s).
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
Illness Anxiety Disorder
Illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondriasis, is having an unrealistic fear of having a serious medical condition or fear of becoming ill. People with this disorder often misinterpret their usual body functions as signs of illness. The difference between somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder is that a person with somatic symptom disorder has real physical symptoms. Common symptoms of illness anxiety disorder include:
- Exaggerating symptoms
- Avoiding people or places due to worry about catching an illness
- Constantly researching diseases and their symptoms
- High level of anxiety about personal health
- Obsession with normal body functions
- Repeatedly checking blood pressure levels or temperature
- Uneasiness with healthy body functions
- Seeking reassurance from family and friends about your symptoms and health
VA Ratings for Mental Health Conditions
There’s a lot that goes into claims for VA Disability Benefits for mental health. Veterans need all the help they can get to win the highest disability rating possible from the VA. The VA has a set structure for mental health ratings based on the different symptoms and their effects as they relate to the difficulties of daily life for veterans.
Contact Our Experienced Team of VA Disability Lawyers
Mental health benefits are complex, and the only way you can ensure you receive the benefits you’ve earned is by working with an experienced VA disability attorney.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to serve disabled veterans better in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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SSD and medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illness are a little different in their diagnosis. When you appeal, you’ll want to bring new and material evidence to your appeal to show the VA’s decision was wrong. You’d only shift to applying for a different condition if the VA said you had that condition in your C&P Exam. Changing too much in your appeal will make the VA raise questions. You can appeal as much as you want, but it’s better to get it right the first time.
Of all of the backward systems and methods in the VA, one nice thing is that the VA is the one to convince about your condition. You don’t even have to think you have a mental problem, but if the VA thinks you do, they’ll give you VA disability for it. Listen to your loved ones and your doctor and follow their advice for the best results on your VA disability. They may see symptoms that you don’t notice and they are here to help.